If the third instalment of a film franchise is difficult to make, the fourth can be exponentially so. All the novel concepts are usually used up, and the remaining ideas seem suspect at best. Yet, sometimes, with your creative back against the wall, you can make a bold lunge in a bold new direction. In 1995, the fourth entry in the increasingly unpredictable Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise took the series to strange new places, with only the comfort of a brand name, and a familiar masked killer, In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation.
In May 22, 1996, after seeing her prom date make out with another woman, Heather gets in a car to drive and clear her head, with her pleading boyfriend along for the ride too. Unbeknownst to her, Jenny and her pot-smoking friend were also in the car too. After getting lost in the backwoods of Texas, and totalling the car, the quartet seeks both help and shelter. When help comes with a tow truck, all is not how it appears, as the four of them will soon come face to face with the embodiment of evil itself, but not from the sources you’d expect.
Modern veneration for the fourth instalment is mainly reserved for the fact that the perennial Texas gubernatorial candidate and all-in-all alright guy, Matthew McConaughey, is in the film. He does revel in the inherent deliration of the franchise’s fourth entry to an enthusiastic degree. Renée Zellweger also makes a debut as Jenny and Lisa Marie Newmyer who all make their first appearances here. They both do a fine job, in the pantheon of great Texas Chainsaw protagonists worthy of the baton of the next generation, this transition also being signified with a brief cameo appearance from a surviving victim from a previous film.
The film wears its offbeat elements on its sleeves and communicates as such even down to its iconic intro text, you’re telegraphed from the offset that you’ll be in for something different. Without getting too deep into spoilers; the film attempts to provide an over-arching explanation for the reasons why the Sawyer clan evoke the patterned brand of cannibalism that they do to random passers-by, and it is interesting enough to give The Next Generation a shot. The soundtrack is also distinct, utilising the talents of local Texan bands, giving the film an authentic sound that is palpable even if you don’t recognise some bands. Combined with the rather grungy look of the woods and the iconic house gives the film an atmosphere that feels so apropos of the decade.
The fourth is a controversial favourite amongst the stalwart fans of the franchise, those who revel in seeing a young McConaughey chew on the scenery and bringing some of the more unorthodox moments to the chronology. The goofier elements make a dramatic return, and the film does more than just revel in the creative freedom that a series like Texas Chainsaw can bring. It’s in stark contrast to Leatherface, much like how 2 was in stark contrast with the original. As the franchise will persevere, the next generation will have to learn to live with the unpredictable carnage of Leatherface.
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